The government has begun installing solar panels on the rooftops of public buildings in Male’, under the Japanese government-sponsored ‘Project for Clean Energy Promotion in Male’.
This morning President Mohamed Nasheed clambered onto the roof of the President’s office to bolt down and wire up a panel, 20 kilowatts worth of which have already been installed all over the building.
The project’s 395 kilowatts of panels will ultimately cut down the fossil fuel usage of installed buildings and ultimately energy bills by 30 percent, under the State Electric Company (STELCO)’s new feed-in tariff.
Speaking during the ceremony to launch the project, Nasheed said a transition away from fossil fuels would increase the energy efficiency of the Maldives by 20-30 percent by the end of 2013.
Nasheed has previously installed 48 solar panels on the roof of his residence, Muleeage, provided gratis by LG Electronics Califorian company Sungevity. Those panels generate 11.5 kilowatts of peak output, enough to power almost 200 standard 60 watt light bulbs, and will save the country US$300,000 over the life of the system.
Minivan News understands that the government is currently revising the draft feed-in tariff – which is currently operative – to make it attractive to companies willing to invest the upfront costs of powering remote islands with solar electricity.
The government has endorsed solar as the best renewable option for reaching its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020, a goal that has broadened from one of environmental concern to an economic imperative.
Last year the Maldives spent 16 percent of its GDP on fossil fuels, making the country extremely vulnerable to even the tiniest oil price fluctuations and adding an economic imperative to renewable energy adoption.
Data collected by the President’s Energy Advisor, former mining engineer Mike Mason, shows that it presently costs between 28-29 cents to produce a kilowatt hour in the Maldives at best, and 77 cents per kilowatt hour at worst.
“Anything beyond 28-29 cents for a big island and 32-33 cents for a small island is just money being burned,” Mason said during the recent Slow Life Symposium held at the upmarket Soneva Fushi resort.
The cost of providing solar electricity straight from the panel was far below the cost of using diesel on any island, including Male’, Mason explained.
Mason collected data on energy usage from the island of Maalhos in Baa Atoll, and found that by pointing the solar panel in the same direction all day, “you can meet midday demand easily. But between 6-11 am in the morning, and after 2pm in the afternoon, you still need to meet the cooling load of fridges and air-conditioners.”
Mason had two suggestions – the first was to use (more expensive) tracking solar panels that would follow the sun and extend the daytime period in which demand could be met using solar. This would also generate the maximum yield from each panel, mitigating another problem – space.
“The challenge will be getting tracking to work in a hot, humid, salty environment,” he acknowledged, particularly if the panels were mounted in shallow lagoons.
The cost of providing electricity from solar in conjunction with current commercially available battery technology was not much different from existing diesel arrangements on many islands, Mason observed. “You lose 20 percent of the electricity putting it in and taking it back out, and it is expensive to fix. It’s not good enough.”
However on Maalhos, Mason noted, 28 percent of the electricity demand was for cooling.
“I had a think about storage. We could use really cold water refrigerated during the day, and use that to drive air-conditioning and fridges at night. This applies as much to resorts as it does home islands.”
This innovation would drop the cost to the level of the country’s most efficient diesel generators, Mason explained. For those powerplants currently running at 77 cents a kilowatt, “this is an opportunity to print money – and there aren’t many of those available to the government.”